CPO Marcy Daniel on moving education forward in trying times.
INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero
The overnight success that began in 1983 when a Fremont, Calif. High School paid $350 to their then student body president for a class project that helped put attendance and other info onto the district’s network has come a long way. After a history of owners (including Apple, Pearson, and now Vista Equity Partners / Onex Corp.), the company with one of the longest runways in the edtech sector has taken off and began trading as a public company on the New York Stock Exchange this past month. PowerSchool now supports 45 million+ students worldwide with more than 12,000 customers, including 93 of the top 100 districts by student enrollment in the U.S., and sells solutions in more than 90 countries.
From yesterday’s $350 to today’s $3.5B valuation, it’s been quite a journey; Marcy Daniel, the company’s Chief Product Officer who joined when Interactive Achievement was acquired in 2016, is responsible for developing a unified strategic vision of PowerSchool portfolio products, managing overall roadmap development, and delivering to clients on the roadmap. No small part of things, and why we decided to reach out to her for insight into the company’s recent history, present perspective, and some glimpses into the future.
Previously, Marcy was a successful executive achieving massive growth in various roles, and led multiple teams in the edtech space. With more than two decades of experience in enterprise software development, brand management, and emerging market development, she holds a bachelor’s degree in System Engineering from the University of Virginia and an MBA from the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina.
“When she turns the business mind wheels to a slower pace,” according to her corporate profile, “you will find her juggling between her beloved roles of a cheering soccer mom and devoted wife. Occasionally, she finds time to huddle over a warm glass kiln—seeking the Zen of creating functional art.”
Here she sculpts a vision of where she came from, recent highlights with her company, her thoughts on what education is looking like in these times along with tech’s role; warm words to educators and parents in trying times, what she’s laser-focused on now, and her thoughts on shaping the future of learning.
Background-wise, how did you initially get involved in tech and learning—what prompted you to first get into this area and how does that purpose drive your current approach?
Marcy: As an engineer in my undergraduate studies, I have been in technology throughout my career — and have enjoyed the opportunity to apply innovative technology to solve problems for many years. My entry point to learning and education happened mid-career and was driven from a place of wanting to apply my skills and work towards making a difference. The education technology market has the perfect mission and application of technology to have meaningful and societal impact. What excites me about PowerSchool, is we are making progress and traction towards our mission of unifying technology for everybody in the education stakeholder community and most importantly ensuring that every student can realize success.
Could you share your highlights with PowerSchool—joining up, moving along, and now— the ‘big news’?
I have several highlights at PowerSchool. I’m most proud that the PowerSchool Unified Classroom has equipped administrators, teachers, students and parents to make the best use of technology in a time of crisis and rapid change. And I’m even more proud that through our mission to challenge the status quo, tear down silos and unify the best-in-class educational technologies, we are equipping the learners of today to solve similar problems in the future – to continue helping our society spend less time churning and more time thriving. PowerSchool’s IPO is an exciting milestone for our company. It’s an important step to furthering our mission to power the education ecosystem with unified technology that helps educators and students realize their full potential, in their way.
‘PowerSchool’s IPO is an exciting milestone for our company. It’s an important step to furthering our mission to power the education ecosystem with unified technology that helps educators and students realize their full potential, in their way.’
From your vantage point—and I know things are shifting rapidly—what is the current state of education?
The pandemic created a seminal moment in education and made it very clear how critical having a robust technology infrastructure is to continuity of operations and learning. Now more than ever we can all relate to the need for technology in education. And, how having better data-driven instruction can help ensure we are providing the best quality of education for every child.
What do you believe is technology’s role in education and what makes you say that?
Education was left behind in the era of digital transformation. We’re just still in the early stages of a push to modernize education, one that will drive efficiencies for administrators, empower educators, unlock student potential and contribute to a quality education that is vital to society. Technology should help and support our educators and students in a way that simplifies their work. When all of your systems work together, educators and students benefit from a smooth, simple workflow that improves the teaching and learning experience. That’s why we are so focused on our vision to unify educational technology in a way that makes it easy and seamless for schools to do what they do best – educate our children.
‘Education was left behind in the era of digital transformation. We’re just still in the early stages of a push to modernize education, one that will drive efficiencies for administrators, empower educators, unlock student potential and contribute to a quality education that is vital to society.’
What advice do you have to educators in these times?
I want educators to know we exist solely to improve the quality of education and support them. We provide services that are part of the fabric of running a school and make the experience better for teachers, administrators and students. I’ve been so inspired by the way the education community has come together to ensure learning can continue and seen the power of community in action. I encourage educators to continue to reach out to us and let us know how we can help. We’re committed to helping educators through any challenge because we know that by coming together to move education forward, we all succeed.
How about words of encouragement for parents and families and students out there?
We’ve all faced many challenges, breakthroughs, and successes throughout this extraordinary time. As a parent I know firsthand it hasn’t been easy, with many ups and downs. But I remain optimistic because we’ve come together as a community to keep learning going. We’ve also seen what a significant role technology can play in advancing education and making a difference in students’ lives. While the pandemic served as an accelerant that drove us to move faster and respond more urgently to the needs in education technology, these approaches are what helped us succeed and together, can help us remain resilient and continue to improve education.
Any more details about PowerSchool, where things may be headed now, and short and longer term? What’s the intention (with some examples)?
Our whole team is laser focused on helping schools prepare for back to school. We spend a lot of time listening to our customers and what’s top of mind for them as we go back to school, and right now, we believe there are four key areas of focus as they start the new school year:
- Helping to understand and support every student
- Ensuring they have confidence in their operational readiness
- Providing the tools needed to support educators
- Ensure they have smarter data to help deliver better outcomes.
As product exec, any specifics on this front—highlights, new things just out, or hints of what’s in development?
My team and I spend countless hours figuring out how to level the playing field and help personalize learning for all students, irrespective of their socio-economic status, to address unique needs. Our aim is to provide even greater impact to education outcomes by expanding and increasing use of our unified platform. We have 1000+ customers already using 5+ modules of our unified solutions but this is just the beginning for us as we roll out our platform to 12K+ customers who are already using 1-2 of our best-in-class solutions today. We also have other prospects in North America and internationally.
What is your overall, high-altitude look—where are we headed into the future, and what is the future of learning?
While we have seen great progress in technology adoption, we are still very early in the digital transformation of education. We’re seeing further acceleration of demand of our cloud solutions to ensure business continuity and analytics. We’re focused on ensuring educators have the information, insights, and time necessary to personalize instruction at an individual student level and providing the tools needed to support educators. PowerSchool is positioned to grow as schools continue to digitally transform their operations and modernize their on-premise deployments in favor of modern, cloud solutions.
‘While we have seen great progress in technology adoption, we are still very early in the digital transformation of education.’
Anything else you care to add or emphasize, any message you’d like to get out to those shaping the future of learning?
For the last several years, educators and policy makers have started to implement initiatives that consider the whole child. You see this reflected in funding and state initiatives that include awareness of school climate, competency base learning models, and social emotional curriculum implementations. As PowerSchool continues forward with unifying technology for education, this remains front and center to our work. As we personalize learning for each individual student, we want to enable educators with the tools to improve their daily actions and interactions with students across all the dimensions including academic instruction, family engagement, competency mastery, career exploration and readiness – setting the foundations for long term student success.
Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: [email protected]
“One of my great joys is seeing companies like PowerSchool and leaders like Hardeep Gulati leverage technology to make a transformative impact on our world. It’s wonderful to see Hardeep’s vision of creating a unified platform for education technology come to life, and the EdTech Digest CEO of the Year award is a well-deserved recognition of these important efforts.” —Robert F. Smith, Founder, Chairman & CEO of Vista Equity Partners (owner, PowerSchool)
PowerSchool’s CEO was the recipient of an EdTech Leadership Award as part of The EdTech Awards 2018 from EdTech Digest. In 2021, PowerSchool earned a Cool Tool Award, Winner for “Best Administrative Solution” as part of The EdTech Awards. Learn more.